What is Lomilomi Massage?
Lomilomi is an ancient Hawaiian concept of working with the life force of an individual to promote well being. Lomilomi massage is a traditional Hawaiian method of utilising gentle touch and unconditional love to encourage the receiver's own natural healing processes. It is a holistic approach which recognises and addresses the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual dimensions of the body.
Another way of saying this is that Lomilomi is an ancient Hawaiian restorative healing system, one component of which is the art of compassionate touch through massage.
Many Hawaiian cultural practices were driven underground by missionaries from the 1700s. In the late 1800s the American government overthrew the Hawaiian government, and most of the Hawaiian cultural and spiritual practices — including the healing arts — were prohibited. It was not until 1978 that Hawaiian healing practices were decriminalised. And it was not until the 1990s that Hawaiians began to openly share their knowledge and healing arts with others.
Since this time there has been a resurgence of Hawaiian culture. Even though some traditionalists have resisted sharing all Hawaiian knowledge with the outside world, it is now possible for non-Hawaiians to delve into the vast knowledge and some of the practices of Hawaiian culture to learn about the interconnectedness of all physical and non-physical things. This is particularly relevant for us in the west as we search for wholeness and healing within ourselves and our communities.
Because ancient Hawaiian wisdom recognised the necessity of unconditional love and touch to promote an individual’s health, massage was — and still is for some — a part of their everyday lives. Traditionally, Lomilomi massage is shared amongst family in Hawai'i. Thus there continues to be as many different styles of Lomilomi massage as there are individuals sharing it.
In Hawai’i, massage is also only one element of Lomilomi. Other techniques like herbs, cleansing, prayer, chanting, conflict resolution and forgiveness are also utilised according to what is needed. At this time in the western world, however, many Lomilomi practitioners tend to focus more on the massage component.
How Lomilomi Massage Works
Massage keeps the tissues supple, fluids moving, emotions cleared, nerves calm, and energies flowing.
A person giving a Lomilomi massage uses hands, forearms and elbows to apply gentle and soothing — yet also invigorating — flowing strokes across the entire body to get the blood moving and to shift any physical and energetic blockages.
The intent and focus of the giver is also a major part of Lomilomi massage. The Hawaiian principle of ‘energy flows where attention goes’ is always remembered while the giver is fully present with the receiver in every moment, listening and responding to what the body and heart of the receiver needs for balance, harmony and healing.
Whilst technique and intent are important, the foundation for Lomilomi massage is unconditional love, which induces profound physiological changes. As Margaret Machado, a respected Hawaiian Elder and teacher of Lomilomi says, “love the body — touch people as if you are touching their souls” (in Harden,1999).
Nurturing under-body strokes are unique to Lomilomi massage and add to the feeling of being caressed by the cleansing ocean, and the gentle stretching of limbs is often included in a session.
A Typical Lomilomi Massage Session
The authentic practice of Lomilomi massage can involve the receiver being asked not only for any relevant physical history, but also to share whatever may be going on mentally, emotionally or generally at this time in their life, since all aspects of health are relevant for deep healing to take place. Answers to these questions will help the giver assess what will be most effective for the receiver at the time.
A simple Hawaiian prayer is used at the start the session.
Oil (which may be heated) is smoothed over the whole body — excluding genitals — while soothing music is played in the background.
The massage is then shared by the giver with complete presence, and with an attitude of aloha (unconditional love) and reverence for the receiver at all times. Although practitioners use a variety of techniques and tailor each treatment to the needs of the receiver, Lomilomi uses rhythmic, flowing massage strokes which are meant to clear blockages in the circulation of energy through the body. The giver typically uses their forearms to make long massage strokes.
At the end of the massage the receiver is often left to relax.
Finally the giver will share any insights about the receiver’s physical or energetic body, and offer any suggestions for creating greater harmony, balance and healing in the receiver’s life.
The Overall Benefits of Lomilomi Massage
Lomilomi massage induces profound physiological changes and can be used to bring vitality and balance in almost any circumstance.
On a physical level, Lomilomi massage dramatically improves the circulation of body fluids which brings oxygen and nutrients to the cells while removing metabolic wastes, and, like remedial massage, it affects the circulatory, nervous and musculoskeletal systems.
It can also increase the receiver’s awareness of the areas being massaged, which in itself can bring about healing.
In addition, Lomilomi is an excellent way of communicating love and trust. During a massage the receiver is offered the chance to be totally nurtured and supported by the giver, which provides an opportunity to let go of the accumulated tensions that are a part of daily life. By releasing chronically held physical tension, the corresponding emotional component can surface and be released. In doing this, a space inside the receiver is encouraged to open for transformation on a spiritual level.
Specific Physiological Benefits of Lomilomi Massage
Lomilomi acts to dilate the blood vessels, which increases the efficiency and supply of fresh nutrients to the tissues and eliminates metabolic wastes from the body. Kneading and gliding strokes promote the return of blood back toward the heart, which enhances circulation and aids in healing. Lomilomi massage also enhances lymphatic fluid circulation, which is important for ridding the body of toxins and for enhancing immunity.
Lomilomi stretches and relaxes tight and tense muscles. It also stretches connective tissue which surrounds and supports the musculature, thus promoting its health and preventing it from adhering to the muscle. Lomilomi can help to lessen the stiffness and swelling found within the joints. It improves muscle tone by mechanically stimulating inherent reflexes found within the muscle fibres. This is especially helpful for those who do not obtain adequate daily exercise.
Lomilomi is an incredibly effective massage for managing stress levels, especially if received regularly. It can have either a stimulating or sedative effect, depending on how it is given, the length of the session, and the present state of the nervous system. Generally though, a receiver will feel an overall sense of invigoration and peace. It can ‘reprogram’ neurological patterns and greatly reduce pain, emotional armouring, and impaired sensations. Some techniques can improve motor-nerve function to organs and muscles, thus helping their functional capacity.
Lomilomi often incorporates massaging the abdomen, which aids digestive and eliminative channels to improve function and efficiency of the internal organs and gastrointestinal tract. It can also help in pregnancy or in restoring the proper location of certain organs.
Lomilomi massage aids the function of both the oil and sweat glands in the skin, our largest organ. It soothes the tens of thousands of nerve endings and flushes out the small capillaries, and generally keeps the skin supple and healthy.
Lomilomi is one of the few massage styles recommended and known to be safe during pregnancy. The gentle flowing strokes nurture both the person carrying the baby and the baby itself, as well as providing relief from any pain that the pregnant person may be experiencing in carrying their growing child. Receiving Lomilomi during pregnancy can also assist the parent in connecting with their baby on deeper levels.
Risks and Contraindications
In general, Lomilomi massage is considered to be a safe practice. Very few adverse effects have ever been reported. Those that have been reported generally relate to side effects when an extremely vigorous massage technique is used — which is not usually deployed in Lomilomi massage sessions. (Vickers & Zollman, 1999)
Lomilomi massage can be effective in almost any circumstance. However,
* diabetics should monitor their blood sugar level carefully; measurements need to be taken immediately after a massage session, as well as over time if receiving massage regularly (Greene, 2000).
* caution should be exercised if the receiver has skin irritations such as burns, rashes, cysts, bruises, open wounds, stitches, or acute sprains. These areas should be avoided during the massage.
* total abstinence is usually necessary when a receiver has a contagious disease, fever, broken bones, acute injuries, dislocations, or lymphoedema. If any of these conditions are present it is best to speak with your Lomilomi practitioner (Kahalewai, 2004).
You should also speak with your Lomilomi massage practitioner if you are unsure about any other condition.
Chai RMR (editor, collected from Elders from Hawai'i). Na Mo'olelo Lomilomi (The Traditions of Hawaiian Massage and Healing). Bishop Museum Press. Honolulu, 2005
Daws G. Shoal of Time - A History of the Hawaiian Islands. University of Hawai'i Press, Honolulu, 1968
Greene E. ‘Massage Therapy’. In Novey DW (ed.) Clinician's Complete Reference to Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Mosby, St Louis, Missouri, 2000
Harden MJ. Voices of Wisdom — Hawaiian Elders Speak. Aka Press, 1999
Kahalewai NS. Hawaiian Lomilomi Big Island Massage. Island Massage Publishing, Mount View USA, 2004